Tag: prose

garden song

Life, prose December 9, 2020

a little note: we did in fact have a rooftop garden and chicks and a vegetable patch. my grandma grew her own food and i remember thinking that is the most amazing thing ever, especially since I lived in the most drab, uninteresting apartment block that had narrow, one-way hallways next to the elevators. I always thought that there was a ghost at the end of it, so the moment the elevator door opened, i ran towards my unit without looking back once and pounded the passcode in such a frenzy. the room on the other side of the rooftop garden was a storage space, my grandma kept all my mom’s old stuff, her computer which was way too big and the countless photo albums. we only took it out during our visits and it always smelled way too much of dust and disintegrating paper

in response to joe hisaishi songs

비가 오는 길

Korean June 16, 2018

그의 말에는 어떠한 힘이 있었다. 그리고 그녀는 비가 오는 날이면 어김없이 그를 생각하곤 했다. 단순히 비가 오는 날에만 그와 대화를 했기에 그가 생각나는 것이 아니었다. 어쩌면 그의 어투에서는 마음이 주륵주륵 흐르고 있어, 가랑비가 오던, 소나기가 오던 그를 연상케 하는지도 모르겠다. 빗소리 사이에 숨죽이는 가느다란 목소리가, 노래 부르듯 잔잔한 그 목소리가 계속 마음에 울렸다. 게다가 기억이라는 게 제 마음대로 되는 것이 아니라, 매개체만 있다면 곧이어 그 시간이 따르는 것일지도. 그녀는 그랬다. 비가 오면 그만이 아니라 그를 향하던 그녀의 눈길까지 생각이 났다. 누구를 봐도 감히 따라할 수 없는, 그를 보는 눈길이. 어떤 방향이 있는 것도, 특정 방법이 있는 것도 아니었던 눈길이었다. 그의 부재엔 감히 따라할 수 없는 그 눈길을 그리는마냥 떠올렸다. 그렇다고 비가 오지 않는 날에 그의 생각이 나지 않는 것도 아니었다. 오히려 있어야 할 것이 없어진 듯, 그 사무치는 빈 공간에 그의 생각을 더욱 꾹꾹 눌러 담곤 했다.


How To Say “I Love You” without saying “I Love You”

Life June 10, 2018




How do you say “I love you”? What do you do when you feel like you have to express your love for someone? Of course, spoken words have the most direct influence — they are explicit and conveniently delivered to the other’s ears. Like an instant message. Swift and easy. It’s so quickly brought upon your senses that it leaves you with no second thoughts. It doesn’t linger. The sound dissipates faster than you think. Only your memories would catch that so distantly and vaguely. So when you reminisce the moment, you would only remember your lover’s lips enunciating “I love you.” It’s easy — it would be like microwaving a cold slice of leftover pizza from the previous night. It’s because you can speak of love even when your feelings are void. It can be done like a swift reflex, like an old nasty habit you’ve had since seven. It’s just like that. It’s hard to tell.

I was thinking about love the other night. Because love isn’t like a swipe on profiles you may or may not like, or number counts on a Facebook account or disappearing ten seconds of a snap. I am not trying to be derogatory towards anyone, or their ways of being loved or loving someone. I suppose love has separate definitions for different people. To me, accounting love as a number or involuntary, simple gesture has less meaning than what I regard love as. Love is such a soft and mellow feeling. A warm, fuzzy feeling. It deserves more than definitions like that. At least to me.

When I think of love, I think of bursting lavenders and pinks of a sunset. Or the brilliant shades of yellow and orange of dawn. The dog-eared pages of someone’s favorite book, the yellow, musty paper of it. Maybe the resounding G-chord of the guitar that resides in your room as a soft echo. Or the delicate fingertips plucking it. Rose petals dried between an encyclopedia and the petal-shaped stain that smells of its traces. The taste of chocolate under your tongue, old quilts that feel like embraces, the faded bronze coin you’ve kept from your last trip. Something like that. Something that stays.

Yet love isn’t always so special. It can be like cliché, mundane romance films that you doze off in midst, or old jazz you listen to on pouring nights. Something you knew about but still lingers in the corner of your heart for days and nights. Sleepless nights and the recollection that keeps you awake just for more stories told by your memory. The letters you receive. Each word and phrase is tailor-made just for you. Every sentence is joined with the thought of you. The way someone writes each word, the way he writes his ‘y’ or ‘g’. The little flicker in its tail. The way you take photographs, in an angle that focuses oddly into someone’s washed denim jacket. Not everything has to be analogue though, it can be on the other end of hushed late night calls, the muffled exchanges of your day, the missed call you only notice when you wake up next morning. The littlest things that have always been with you, but still leaves you with visceral hours of afterthoughts.

The way someone says “I love you,” the pair of eyes locked into each other, the backlit feeling of warmth spreading throughout your body, the power with which each word is spoken, pressed and calm. Not just the word love. That is my paradigm of love.

Memoir for Jude

prose June 10, 2018

I have always thought that distant memories give you a more visceral, longing sentiment. Something of higher value than things that your eyes have just swept by. As your memory gets increasingly dim, the harder you try to envision the remaining traces in your head to regather the time you felt so dear about. Because time can be such a whimsical friend, you often let memories slip by you – sometimes without notice, and sometimes even when you’ve told yourself not to forget about them. The most lasting impressions can disfigure into mere trails of thoughts. Or the most insignificant ones – ones you have never thought your mind would grab hold of – would remain as your pillow-side thoughts every passing night.

I remember Jude. I suppose ‘remember’ is a strong word to use in this case, because all of him I possess this day is an imperfect vessel full of indistinct thoughts and unresolved feelings. Now it’s more of an old reflex, an instinctive response the body harbors. I have known him for at least six years – also because I cannot clearly recall how we met – I am more used to him, or rather, my impression of him sweeping by like a breeze. A vestige from long nights and days of thinking of him. It has been too long since we last spoke, so my thoughts of him are usually void of any sort of feelings. Usually, I would have a distinct opinion towards most people; as for Jude, it is as if I am a disinterested, aloof observer of something. This is also the byproduct of my years of practice of desperately attempting to forget him.

“That’s stupid,” he commented, during one of our heated discussions of whether you can forget something intentionally. I had said that if an occasion leaves you with a certain level of shock, the body would respond to it by removing the recollection from the stream of consciousness.

“You can never forget what you try to forget. The endless acts of forgetting just put emphasis on the memory itself. After all, you would have to recall what the occasion is about to forget it in the first place,” he said.

I remember attempting to argue against it, but somehow it seemed ironically true.

And when I actually had to forget him, I ended up remembering him more. Maybe I wanted to remember him subconsciously, who knows.

Nevertheless, I try to draw his face with the tip of my finger on sleepless nights. I would try to link the speckles of dust garishly floating around the lamplight. I always draw his lips first, because I have always wondered what kind of lips someone who always knew his ways around words would have. The kind of lips the sweetest good-nights came from. The kind that always called my name so endearingly that I would ask him to do so over and over again. And he would. Then I draw his nose, cheeks, and eyes along the wavering orange glow of the lamp. I have the hardest time drawing his eyes. They always gaze over something further, something so distant that I could never follow where he was actually at, or where he wanted to be.

The funny part is that I don’t exactly remember how he looked like. I have built an image of Jude around my own memories of him. The recollections I have are my rough sketches of him. Maybe he does not have a neat pair of lips that spoke with such elegance. Maybe his lips are parched and unrefined. Maybe he never had that smooth, perfect curve on his cheeks that if you run your finger along it, it goes over very smoothly. Or the eyes that had such depth. After all, imagination is stronger than indistinct past memories. The eyes and the lips are what I think he would have, just to justify the memories I have of him. I still lock my eyes into his eyes, the very pair I draw. I intently look into his eyes, not for the smallest creases or the fallen eyelash, but for my own reflection in his eyes, transparent and honest.

“I want to know what you are like,” Jude said out of the blue one day.

“I think six years is pretty much enough to get to know me,” I replied. “You know I secretly like the color orange sometimes. No one knows about that. It’s my guilty pleasure.”

“Someone who would make the effort to observe you just for a day would find that out instantly,” he said.

After a long pause, he spoke. “There are things that you discover only through real human interaction, you know. I want to know what you’re like when you get bored of me talking. Tapping your fingers? Folding the margins of the tissue? I want to know how you laugh. Not just sound-wise, but the gestures you make. I want to follow your gaze and see what kind of things you lay your eyes upon. Things like these.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of you,” I said in defense, a little taken aback by the degree of emotions his statement held. The words came out as a clumped-up choke rather than a neat enunciation.

He laughed. “I’ve been told I’m a bore.”

“But so am I,” I said.

His wish never came true. We never got to meet, and our six years of “getting to know each other” ironically, never came to a resolution. It was not just because of the fact that we are penpals living seven-hour flight distance away from each other. If I tried, I could have always flown over to see him. I would have done that. Because sometimes, even a daunting venture is worth just to see someone you love. It was partly because out of all the days we knew each other, the good days were only a very small portion of it, that it was probably better off for both of us if we did not get to meet. Our days were not always sunny, and most of the times he stayed hidden, somewhere I could not reach.

“I like talking to you. Talking to you makes me comfortable,” he said once. “Actually, it really does. Usually, when I talk to others, I have to think about things that would continue the conversation. And sometimes that’s really hard for me. I don’t have to do that for you. It just comes naturally.”

He stopped. I held my breath too. I listened to the tempos of his breath as I waited for him to resume.

“But I get so mad at you sometimes,” he said.

This time, I paused. Something sank in my heart. I was not disappointed or heartbroken. It came to me more as a confirmation of something I have assumed a long time ago. It was a sort of acknowledgment.

“It’s not your fault. Maybe it’s just me. I just, I just get so frustrated and angry,” his voice got louder. His breath got louder and more rapid momentarily. “Why couldn’t you have just left me alone?”

That was our last conversation. I have not heard back from him since then. He has always yearned to die, so maybe he has achieved his wish. Maybe he was too scared and came back in self-loathe. I can never find out now. Out of those six years, there was never a moment when he was not filled with such sorrow and solitude. There had been times where he felt more like an automaton, repeating old, recorded messages over and over again before even the tip of his lips got rusty that he could not slip out a word anymore. There had also been moments where he was a wild animal, growling at every peripheral patch of light. Other times he had locked himself up in his own bubble that floated aimlessly around the world he felt so bitter about.

Some good days he would share a conversation about his favorite restaurant in the small town he was living in. The rural stretches of asphalt that led up to the only Italian restaurant, the air filled with the smell of grass when the autumn breeze swept by, the one good carbonara he has ever tasted, and the kind owner of the restaurant who always welcomed him and listened to how his day went by. I have never had many chances to have carbonara until then, but listening to his memories of his favorite restaurant made me want to try it. The first carbonara I tasted after years and years was delicious. I always think about the dead shells of cicadas and the sound of the small gold bell that rang when he opened the door.

Other nights he would tell me sad stories about his childhood. He told me about his first and last family trip when days were still bright and he felt more certain of the world. I recall his voice so reminiscent and resigned as he recounted his trip. He remembered every detail of the trip. The sea’s call as he took each step into the shores were so soothing, he laughed under his breath. He watched the sunset spreading across the horizon, and stayed there long after the sun had gone by. After which he returned to the shabby hotel with his family. In a calm voice, Jude spoke about the corniest soap opera on the TV, or how the furniture was oddly placed throughout the room. Things like the color of the drawer. The dusty smell that stole him of his sleep and kept him awake in the night, and the way his brother tossed and turned all night. When the snow globe he bought as a souvenir cracked, he said he ran his finger over the crack repeatedly in the car ride back home, as if that would mend the fissure in the snow globe and his heart.

I thought of this – like a reflex – when I came back from my trip to London. London was one of the greatest places I have been to. Definitely most memorable. I would say I remember moments and moments of it, like the taste of the chocolate chip cookie I bought in Borough Market, or the frozen red tips of my finger as I pressed it around my favorite pen. I remember the busker’s John Denver song, and the intricate gold ring I bought in one of the old markets. I remember the boy with rose-flushed cheeks I met in the museum and the song I listened to on the long bus ride. Moments and moments of it that all came out to be a blur, so surreal that it felt like a dream after I came back. While it came out to be only a chunk of dreamy blur to me, it seemed like Jude was clutching onto the tiniest blur in his memories so desperately, so dearly. I saw him living in the happy days that were long gone by, and that made me sad.

It’s a matter of the difference in our desire to hold onto something. I was always surrounded by things. Littlest things could make me happy. The washed clean smell of morning laundry, dried up lavender bookmarks, and a good hot chocolate could keep me happy for the rest of the week. I had many things to hold, and many things I wanted to hold. So some memories didn’t hold much importance to me. I could easily let something slip through my fingers. I could just find another source of happiness very quickly. That was me. It was my way of keeping myself happy. As for Jude, he had nothing to find solace in. His crumbling surroundings were bleak and grim, such that even residing in that reality would drain him. He needed to clutch onto something brighter, something distant but lighter. He had to hold onto memories like the broken snow globe.

There is a small boundary that separates remembrance and recollection. You remember someone out of your own will. It is a voluntary action, and recollection happens because perhaps, you spot something that reminds you of someone. In contrary to what I have said previously, I remember Jude. I remember him because he is an integral part of my memories. I would gladly do so. And Jude would have recollections of me. If he sees a cup with orange polka-dots, he would recall how I secretly adored the color. Or when he listens to Glenn Miller, he would probably take a while to recall that my favorite Miller piece is Moonlight Serenade. We have always had this demarcation – the distinction between remembrance and recollection – between us. And I’ve loved him so dearly, even with this separation.

However hard I try to draw out my remaining impression of him, I always end up with another blurry picture of the past. The distance the time leaves you with only bestows sleepless nights of longing. The longingness with which you look upon your past makes you uncertain of what actually happened. And this is also my way of telling a story. Our story was composed of a more complex tangle of feelings – marked by many unspoken wishes and frequent departures. Tear-stained pillowcases and solitude – our days were not as good as I had described throughout this memoir. Even Jude himself has defined us as a “love-hate relationship.” Time has never been so generous, and I would not be lying if I said that I am glad to forget some parts of our story. I just had to forget some things about him to remember some parts.

I would be less inclined to define this as sugar-coating. If life is a book with pages full of endless chapters, omitting less favorable content would be simply another way of storytelling. I would prefer to leave our story as that. A story. A short memoir. A sweet remembrance.